This was written in January 2015. I have added a 2017 Election Post script.
In the 1989 Euros, 2,292,718 voted Green, 15%. Throughout England, there was a 42% correlation with the Conservative vote (35%), from our best, Sussex, to our worst, Tyne & Wear. Last year 1,255,573 voted Green, with no such pattern.
Now, everyone takes for granted that the Green Party will take Labour votes in the coming  General Election, but not Conservatives. The Green Party is positioning itself as the Anti-Austerity Party, a huge gap left by the others. A recession did happen, and sails needed trimming. But that could have been done without the inhuman regime of workfare, benefit sanctions, benefit caps and Work Capability Assessments being ruthlessly pursued against benefit claimants and the disabled, at the same time as the rich are still receiving tax cuts. Nor was rampant privatization , not mentioned in the election campaign, relevant. What is happening to the NHS is common knowledge, but the handover of the Probation Service is not even claimed as part of the austerity package.
Even without the need to redress these extreme right wing measures, any party which aims for a sustainable economy will have to have social justice at its core. The whole competitive, market dominated culture must become one of mutual co-operation. But we must not be just an ‘anti-austerity’ Party. It would not be wise simply to promise to put the clock back. Means testing is wrong in principle, and must be got rid of, but not by Iain Duncan Smith’s methods.
The correlation with Conservative votes ceased abruptly as soon as they realized that the Green Party was not ‘single issue’, but had a whole raft of policies they did not agree with, and which did not, for them, obviously connect with ‘Limits to Growth’. We Greens did badly in the 1992 General Election, and in the next Euros, 1994 we polled 494,561, 3%. I had better come clean about some details here. The Liberal Democrats did not exist in 1989. The Social and Liberal Democrats polled 6%, whereas the Liberal Democrats polled 17% in 1994, almost balancing the Green losses.
The correlation with Conservative votes remains a fact, and a there is another factor which I believe was at work. It is no coincidence that prior to the election of Mrs. Thatcher in 1979, the Liberals and their variously named successors were weak. I am old enough to remember Harold Macmillan’s premiership. He had a genuine abhorrence of poverty, having been shaken to the core by what he saw as a young Conservative candidate in Stockton-on-Tees in 1922. Edward Heath had no such concerns, and then Thatcher . . .
Many of those 1989 Green voters probably did vote Lib Dem at later elections. They backed away from Thatcher just as many Labour supporters later backed away from Blair. but they were unlikely ever to have been Labour. Many who have come into the Green Party from the ‘Left’, have a tribal caricature of a typical Conservative which is quite accurate, but only for a few of them. Several government departments, notably the Department of Work and Pensions are currently run by such people.
But I have two pieces of evidence which suggest there remains a huge reservoir of potential Green support currently being scared off. When I joined the Green Party, as an enquirer I asked the four founder members:
“What is your social policy? You will need one if you are going to cause a recession, even if it is to stop humans wrecking the ecosphere.”
“We haven’t got one yet. There is no point until we have secured a sustainable economy. Do you have a social policy in mind?”
I joined on the spot and spent the journey home struggling with my own question. Next time I met the others, I gave them the good news: what we now call the Citizens’ or Basic Income would enable everyone to accept a recession without worrying. However, the catch was that rich people would have to pay more in tax than the CBI was worth to them.
The founder members, two solicitors and an estate agent and his partner were clearly well off. Fairly quickly they accepted the idea matter-of-factly. They could not think of a better idea. They were highly motivated to make a success of the new party to save the ecosphere, and could see that quite apart from the ecological logic, the Citizens’ Income was fair where means tested benefits were not. Those 2.3 million 1989 Green voters, of whom at least 1 million are still missing, still have not had the benefit of that discussion.
In 2007 Tony Blair resigned from Parliament. Sedgefield constituency’s only Green candidates had been in the Euro elections. Two thirds of it is a post-industrial mining area, hence its safety as a Labour seat. But Sedgefield village itself is in the rural part, confirmed at the count as being mainly conservative.
Our small team knocked on every door in Sedgefield, three polling districts, speaking to approximately 25% of the electorate. Barely 1% had thought of voting Green before our call, but 24% (6% of the electorate in those polling districts) said they would consider it. I cannot guarantee that all workers used my spiel. I did not mention the Citizens’ Income, it would take too long on the doorstep. I said only the Green Party took climate change seriously. We could not promise to stop it, but a much fairer society where well-off people would pay more in taxes than they did now would be a necessary precondition. The Green vote in the constituency as a whole was 1.2%, but in the polling districts we canvassed, it was 6%.
This was July 2007, before ‘Northern Rock’ pooped the economic party. Naturally, since then doorstep conversations tend to include “The economy is more important than the environment”, and our “But the economy depends on the environment” is spoken to a closing door.
But our anti-austerity message is consistent with our original ecological message, which can appeal to those who do still worry about the IPCC reports. The Green Party should be taking votes from both sides. The Labour Party will obviously try to frighten their seriously disaffected former supporters with the threat of Ralph Nader, who probably did cause Al Gore to lose to George W. Bush in 2000. I hope anyone who thought ‘Green Left’ was in the interests of the Green Party bears this in mind.
Although the Citizens’ Basic Income is redistributive, it does have ‘right of centre’ supporters, notably small business people. If you have no money, but a bright entrepreneurial idea, the Basic Income supprts you. When it succeeds, you pay more back than you get from the Basic Income.
Like the founder members, perhaps a million people who will pay more in tax than the Basic Income is worth to them, will realize it is fair, and a price worth paying to save the environment. Another group whose support may finally bring a Universal guaranteed income from being out of the question to a matter-of-fact reality, like the fall of the Berlin wall, or not smoking anywhere, is Silicon Valley. In a word, automation.
Post script following the 2017 General election.
This blog post demonstrates that it is not wisdom after the event when I cringed in anticipation of just this result: the Green Party slumped to 45 % of its 2015 tally,and 23% of its best vote ever (1989). But it would not have helped to play Cassandra. However, instead of going to Bristol, I knew that my efforts would be most effective in the Isle of Wight – our best 2015 result in a Conservative constituency.
But what worries me more than the setback is the understandable inabiliity of many Green Party members to accept the unpalatable lesson. All those second places in 2015, and many other apparently encouraging results were in safe Labour seats. Voters were not interested in the ecosphere, they merely preferred what the Green Party was offering to Ed Miliband’s Labour. There never was any prospect of keeping them away from a believable Labour Party. I have seen a string of rationalizations to avoid accepting this.
The Green Party has two mountains to climb. The first is that it must return to what it was for in the first place. It must make friends with all who want to save the ecosphere. The government’s poor record on the environment since 2010 worries the relatively prosperous Isle of Wight more than it does inner city Bristol, Sheffield or London.
The second task is to reconcile those new friends to the fairer society – in other words higher taxation for them – that will be necessary if we are to save the ecosphere. Yes redistribution will have to happen, but confrontation is not the way to persuade people.
I do have a straw to clutch at. Vix Lowthion will be our second MP. At least she has a chance if Green Left can stop fighting the class war. Vix got by far the second best 2017 Green result after Caroline Lucas. She understands better than Caroline does how the Citizens’ Basic Income will make the stupendous task of combining these diverse aims possible.